Summer would not have been summer without a beach party, complete with bonfire and s’mores. My friends have this ritual down to a science–someone provides the main course; someone else provides the plastic tableware, someone else provides drinks, and someone else provides the fire (the hardest job of all, since that person is stoking and tending all evening). The rest of the food is assigned to various guests via email–no haphazard side dishes–everyone knows what everyone else is bringing.
I always love to bring vegetables. I think that vegetables tend to get overlooked at parties, in favor of starchy side dishes, like pasta salad or potato salad. Also, this time of year, there is so much bounty in the way of late summer/early fall produce, that it’s a joy to make an abundant plate of them.
The local broccoli is sweeter and milder than the California broccoli that we get during other times of year–it has none of the mustardy bite that most people associate with broccoli. Therefore, it’s nice to add a little something bitter and crunchy to balance the sweetness of the broccoli. Radicchio is a nice foil for this purpose. It’s crunchy, bitter and absolutely beautiful to look at.
Also, it doesn’t wilt or discolor when dressed.
For an outdoor buffet, the obvious goal is to serve things that hold well at room temperature, so, although I usually serve my broccoli hot, on this occasion, a salad is more appropriate. The broccoli simply get trimmed and lightly blanched (in batches), and the raw radicchio gets sliced into fat ribbons and tossed with the warm broccoli and dressing.
The question of dressing this salad presented me with a quandary–acid or no acid? I like to think of myself as a very judicious user of acids. Working with Mario was an education in using acids in cooking and achieving bright notes with them in all kinds of dishes. It was the late 1990’s and balsamic vinegar was all the rage–sometimes I liked it, sometimes not. But Mario gave me a broadening experience in the way of tweaking the flavors of foods with vinegars, citrus zests and mustards.
One of my favorite lessons from him was the subtle but startling use of lemon and orange zest in all manner of dishes. Tonight, I experimented with a variety of vinegars and citrus in dressing this salad. I simply took a tiny piece of broccoli and ribbon of radicchio and dipped it in the various vinegars and added a piece of lemon or orange zest, and tasted.
The winning combination for this salad was olive oil and lemon zest, with a sprinkling of black olives–pitted nicoise olives. These olives gave the salad random little bites of brininess, along with the overall lemon essence from the zest. An added bonus to using just the zest (without the juice) was a bright green salad, without any discoloration from the acid.
This salad can be made ahead and kept at room temperature for up to 4 hours. It’s a great (and gorgeous) salad to bring to a dinner party anytime of year!
Broccoli and Radicchio Salad
4 large heads broccoli
2 heads radicchio, cored and sliced crosswise into 1″ ribbons
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
zest of 2 lemons
1 c pitted black olives
salt and pepper to taste
Trim the broccoli into manageable bites and drop, in batches, into a large pot of heavily salted boiling water ( I mean heavily–about a half-cup salt for a large stockpot of water) . The salinity of your water will affect the overall evenness and subtlety (believe it or not) of seasoning of the finished salad–it’s difficult to infuse these vegetables with the right amount of salt (without them tasting like pure salt) after cooking.
As soon as the water returns to a boil, drain each batch of broccoli and add to large mixing bowl. Toss in radicchio, lemon zest, oil and lots of black pepper.
Arrange on large platter and top with plenty of black olives.